After ‘interesting' 2nd Season With Sixers, Jahlil Okafor Left to Ponder About Future

CAMDEN, N.J. -- Perhaps no one went through a more up-and-down season with the Sixers than Jahlil Okafor.

He began training camp injured, started alongside Joel Embiid, fell out of the rotation, was held out of games because of trade talks, re-emerged as a starting center and was shut down for the season with nagging right knee soreness that dates back to surgery last March.

Not exactly a smooth ride in his second year in the NBA.

"It was an interesting year, something that I'm proud to say I handled the right way," Okafor said Thursday in end-of-the-season media sessions. "I can lay my head at night and know that I feel like I handled everything professionally."

Okafor was limited to just 50 games this season, averaging 11.8 points and 4.8 rebounds. He missed the final 11 games because of right knee soreness. Okafor has not been doing any on-court basketball activity and is limited to treatment, rest and strengthening his knee. He has not had discussions about another surgery. 

"Some days I have good days, some days I don't," he said. "Some days my knee will swell up and that's when we usually put a hold on things and allow me to rest. We're just trying to figure it out and every day I'm working with them to get better."

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When asked if last year's season-ending surgery for a right meniscus tear was a failure since he is still dealing with an injury, Okafor replied, "It wasn't a failure. It's part of being a professional athlete. You have surgeries and after, post-surgery, you will have soreness. It's part of playing 82 games and practicing and loading. We did the best we can to handle it."

Okafor believes his often-changing usage could have impacted his health. He started in 33 games and came off the bench for 17. He also went through stretches when he would sit multiple games in a row. 

"I wouldn't make any excuses for my knee; the knee was fine," he said. "When I was able to play, I played. It was just a weird year for me, not playing then playing. Fluctuating minutes might not have been the best thing for my knee. But I did what I could to make the best of it."

Whether or not this was Okafor's last interview as a member of the Sixers remains to be seen. The team came close to trading him in February, so close they benched him and kept him back in Philadelphia when they traveled. They were looking to clear up a logjam of centers, ultimately trading Nerlens Noel to the Mavericks. 

"I was never frustrated with coach (Brown) or (Sixers president of basketball operations) Bryan (Colangelo)," Okafor said. "I was just frustrated kind of with the situation I was dealing with, with having myself, having Nerlens, having Jo, having Richaun (Holmes), having a lot of bigs here. It was nobody's fault. It wasn't Bryan's fault. It wasn't coach Brown's fault. It was just the situation that was handed to us and we did the best we could to keep everybody composed. I think we all handled it really well."

Brown has spoken highly of the way Okafor managed his situation this season. 

"His heart is pure," Brown said before Wednesday's season finale. "He wants to please. It's maybe at times his strength and his weakness. He wants to get back and remind people of who Jahlil Okafor is … Physically, the health reason, he just hasn't been able to live up to that, not through any fault of his own because he really hasn't had an abundance of opportunity."

It seems likely the Sixers will revisit trade talks this offseason. There is no clear fit for Okafor with Joel Embiid locked in as the starting center. Holmes has developed into a reliable backup, a role that does not fit Okafor's game. This season, he averaged 13.4 points in 24.2 minutes as a starter compared to 8.6 points in 19.8 minutes as a reserve. 

"Whatever they tell me to do, I'll embrace," Okafor said of his role. "Right now it's so far fetched for me to go into next season. This season just ended. My main focus is getting healthy."

Okafor has maintained his interest in playing for the Sixers, citing the tight-knit bond with the players. If he stays a part of the team, he would be eager to take the next step with the organization. Okafor said the Sixers want to make it to the playoffs next season.

"I love being here," he said. "I got really close with everybody here. We have amazing teammates … It's a bunch of young guys that are hungry and looking to get better. Great things are happening here in Philadelphia and I'd love to be a part of it."

It is a big "if" that will have to be addressed this summer.

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